Iowa Divorce Law

Divorce and Legal Separation in Iowa



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Divorce and Legal Separation in Iowa

Iowa Divorce Basics

Divorce in Iowa is legally referred to as Dissolution of Marriage.

Filing:

The Petitioner may file a Petition for Dissolution of Marriage in the district court in the county where either party resides. The Petitioner has 90 days after filing the Petition to serve the Respondent. If the Petitioner fails to meet this deadline the case will be dismissed.

No dissolution of marriage shall be granted before 90 days have passed since the following:
  • The date the original notice is served;
  • The last day of publication of notice;
  • The date that waiver or acceptance of original notice is filed; or
  • Until after conciliation is completed, whichever period is longer.
The court may hold a hearing and grant a decree of dissolution of marriage prior to the expiration of the 90 day waiting period if it receives a written notice supported by affidavit describing the grounds of emergency or necessity, and the court determines it is necessary.

Mediation:

The district court may, on its own motion or on the motion of any party order the parties to participate in mediation in any dissolution of marriage action or other domestic relations action.

The Supreme Court has established a dispute resolution process in family law cases that includes the opportunities for mediation and settlement conferences. Any judicial district may implement this dispute resolution program, subject to the rules prescribed by the Supreme Court.

Spouse’s Name:

Either party to a marriage may request, as a part of a decree of dissolution or of annulment, a change in the person’s name to either the name appearing on the person’s birth certificate or to the name the person had immediately prior to the marriage.

Legal Grounds for Divorce

Iowa is a no-fault state. The court shall enter a decree dissolving a marriage when there has been a breakdown of the marriage relationship to the extent that the legitimate objects of matrimony have been destroyed and there remains no reasonable likelihood that the marriage can be preserved.

Annulment

Marriage may be annulled for the following causes:
  • The marriage is prohibited by law;
  • Either party was impotent at the time of marriage;
  • Either party had a husband or wife living at the time of the marriage, provided they have not, with a knowledge of that fact, lived and cohabited together after the death or marriage dissolution of the former spouse of the party; and
  • Either party was a ward under a guardianship and was found by the court to lack the capacity to contract a valid marriage.

Same-sex Marriage:

Same-sex marriage is legal in Iowa, as of April 27, 2009.

Property Division

Upon every judgment of annulment, dissolution, or separate maintenance, the court shall divide the property of the parties and transfer the title of the property accordingly.

Iowa is an equitable distribution state. The court divides all property, except inherited property or gifts received or expected by one party, equitably between the parties after considering all of the following factors:
  • The length of the marriage;
  • The property brought to the marriage by each party;
  • The contribution of each party to the marriage, giving appropriate economic value to each party’s contribution in homemaking and child care services;
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the parties;
  • The contribution by one party to the education, training, or increased earning power of the other;
  • The earning capacity of each party,
  • The earning capacity of each party, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, custodial responsibilities for children, and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to become self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage;
  • The desirability of awarding the family home or the right to live in the family home for a reasonable period to the party having custody of the children, or if the parties have joint legal custody, to the party having physical care of the children;
  • The amount and duration of an order granting support payments to either party and whether the property division should be in lieu of such payments;
  • Other economic circumstances of each party, including pension benefits, vested or unvested;
  • The tax consequences to each party;
  • Any written agreement made by the parties concerning property distribution;
  • The provisions of an ante-nuptial agreement; and
  • Other factors the court may determine to be relevant in an individual case.
    Property inherited by either party, or gifts received by either party prior to or during the course of the marriage is the property of that party and is not subject to a property division, unless it is determined that refusal to divide the property is unfair to the other party or to the children of the marriage.

Spousal Support

Upon every judgment of annulment, dissolution, or separate maintenance, the court may grant an order requiring support payments to either party for a limited or indefinite length of time after considering all of the following factors:
  • The length of the marriage;
  • The age and physical and emotional health of the parties;
  • The distribution of property made to the parties;
  • The educational level of each party at the time of the marriage and at the time the action is commenced;
  • The earning capacity of the party seeking maintenance, including educational background, training, employment skills, work experience, length of absence from the job market, responsibilities for children under either an award of custody or physical care, and the time and expense necessary to acquire sufficient education or training to enable the party to find appropriate employment;
  • The feasibility of the requesting party becoming self-supporting at a standard of living reasonably comparable to that enjoyed during the marriage, and the length of time necessary to achieve this goal;
  • The tax consequences to each party;
  • Any mutual agreement made by the parties concerning financial or service contributions by one party with the expectation of future reciprocation or compensation by the other party;
  • The provisions of an ante-nuptial agreement; and
  • Other factors the court may determine to be relevant in an individual case.

Child Custody and Support

Custody:

The court may provide for joint custody of the child by the parties. The court shall order the custody award, including liberal visitation rights where appropriate, which will assure the child the opportunity for the maximum continuing physical and emotional contact with both parents after the parents have separated or dissolved the marriage, and which will encourage parents to share the rights and responsibilities of raising the child unless direct physical harm or significant emotional harm to the child, other children, or a parent is likely to result from such contact with one parent.

If the court finds that a history of domestic abuse exists, the court general presumes it does not serve the best interest of the child to award joint custody.

In considering what custody arrangement is in the best interest of the minor child, the court shall consider the following factors:
  • Whether each parent would be a suitable custodian for the child;
  • Whether the psychological and emotional needs and development of the child will suffer due to lack of active contact with and attention from both parents;
  • Whether the parents can communicate with each other regarding the child’s needs;
  • Whether both parents have actively cared for the child before and since the separation;
  • Whether each parent can support the other parents’ relationship with the child;
  • Whether the custody arrangement is in accord with the child’s wishes or whether the child has strong opposition, taking into consideration the child’s age and maturity;
  • Whether one or both the parents agree or are opposed to joint custody;
  • The geographic proximity of the parents;
  • Whether the safety of the child, other children, or the other parent will be jeopardized by the awarding of joint custody or by unsupervised or unrestricted visitation;
  • Whether a history of domestic abuse exists
If joint legal custody is awarded to both parents, the court may award joint physical care to both joint custodial parents upon the request of either parent. Before ruling on the request for the award of joint physical care, the court may require the parents to submit, either individually or jointly, a proposed joint physical care parenting plan.

A proposed joint physical care parenting plan shall address the following:
  • How the parents will make decisions affecting the child;
  • How the parents will provide a home for the child;
  • How the child’s time will be divided between the parents and how each parent will facilitate the child’s time with the other parent;
  • Arrangements in addition to court-ordered child support for the child’s expenses;
  • How the parents will resolve major changes for disagreements affecting the child including changes that arise due to the child’s age and developmental needs; and
  • Any other issues the court may require.
Mandatory Course:

The court shall order the parties to any action which involves the issues of child custody or visitation to participate in a court-approved course to educate and sensitize the parties to the needs of any child or party during and subsequent to the proceeding within 45 days of the service of notice and petition for the action.

Participation in the course may be waived or delayed by the court for good cause including, but not limited to, a default by any of the parties or a showing that the parties have previously participated in a court-approved course or its equivalent. Participation in the course is not required if the proceeding involves termination of parental rights of any of the parties.

A final decree shall not be granted until the parties have complied with the educational requirement, unless participation in the course is waived or delayed for good cause or is otherwise not required.

Support:

The court may protect and promote the best interests of children of the parties by setting aside a portion of the parents’ property in a separate fund or conservatorship for the support, maintenance, education, and general welfare of the minor children.

The Iowa child support guidelines are based on the Income Shares Model. A variation from the guidelines shall not be considered by the department without a record or written finding, based on stated reasons, that the guidelines would be unjust or inappropriate.

The court may order either parent or both parents to pay an amount reasonable and necessary for supporting a child. When determining monthly child support payments, the court shall consider other children for whom either parent is legally responsible for support and other child support obligations actually paid by either party.

Legal Separation

Iowa does not recognize legal separations and has no statutes regarding legal separations.

A petition, however, may be filed for separate maintenance actions as in actions for dissolutions of marriage, and all applicable provisions shall apply to separate maintenance.

Links to State Resources